Literature

Poetry speaks with Britta B.

By Angelyn Francis

Photo via Britta B.

It’s the intermission of this Monday’s R.I.S.E. Poetry show. It’s the break between singers and poets. The audience is let loose to mingle and catch up with friends to the beat of 90s hip-hop playing in the background. Instead of singing and whistling along, like she did in the first half, Britta “Britta B.” Badour is scanning her yellow Moleskin notebook. She walks around, settles into a corner, hidden by filing cabinets, and hunches over her notebook. Then she turns around again, skips forward slightly and then straightens her arms to stretch her book out at eye level. Badour, better known as Britta B., runs a hand through her mass of curls and reads something to herself. Then she takes a pen and scribbles something … but what? Earlier, she said she was down to her last little page in this book, already graffitied with sideways writing, crossed out chicken-scratch and scribbled drawings. Even that page had makeshift margins between other scratched out words.

Soon Randell Adjei, the host for the night, and one of Britta B.’s mentors, ushers everyone to their seats. He calls out the next impromptu act—Britta B. Earlier, a friend, Michael Flamank, asked Britta B. if she was performing. She shook her head and popped open the lid of her pasta, “I didn’t sign up.”

“Aw, So?” Flamank prompted. He had an act coming up soon. She flipped her legs up in her seat to sit cross legged. “Well I have nothing prepared; I’m not really feeling it.”

Now an hour later, she climbs the steps to the stage to hoots and calls of her names from the audience. “Alright, so this is my freestyle. Randell inspired me to try something new. You guys get the first performance of this ever. You ready?” Inspired by the snowstorm bellowing outside and put together from fragmented poems-in-progress, came a poem about change which met a roomful of cheers and applause. The most enthusiastic audience member of the entire night was silent. Of course she stayed silent; it would be inappropriate for the performer to cheer for herself. She just smiled at the audience and her fellow performers.

Earlier, Flamank said to Britta B., “I went over the footage of the January show and you could hear your laugh throughout the whole thing! It was so distinguishable!”

Tonight again, her voice stood out on its own wavelength. Each performer’s call got a Britta B. response.

“Can I get a rise? No, no, that was a little weak, can I get another rise?!”

To which Britta B. roared, “Rise!” then dropped her voice an octave, smiled and said to the man on stage, “You just gotta ask; you gotta ask strongly.” She snapped her fingers, joked with the performers, sang with the chorus when someone preformed John Legend’s Ordinary People. She did anything to engage, to put them at ease on stage. For the last performance, singer Dakarai asked the crowd to get to their feet. David Delisca threw his hands in the air and creeped around floor on beat. Britta B. tied up her hair in a lopsided ponytail and joined him. “I love David he brings out the nerd in me!” Flamank jumped up and joined them too. “You feel it?” she asked Flamank. “It’s because you’re trying something new!” She threw her head back and bellowed, “It’s the best feeling!”

These Monday night performances are for those who want to be inspired and develop their craft. The space is free of judgement. Britta B. is an ambassador for the program.

This was her first Monday back at R.I.S.E. since returning from Minneapolis, where she represented Toronto for the annual Women of the World Poetry Slam (WOWPS). It’s an individual competition for self-identified women worldwide.

 For the past three years Britta B. has auditioned at the Toronto qualifiers, each time coming in second or third.

“The first time I didn’t even know I was going to audition. It was literally half hour before and I was printing poems at my office.”

Last year it was Britta B.’s coach from the Toronto Poetry Slam team, Alessandra Naccarato who placed first and moved on to WOWPS.

This year, it was her turn.

“More women should be in spoken word. We unite; it’s energy; it’s power shared.”

Britta B. placed 27th out of 72 poets from around the world. But she was more focused on her awe-inspiring peers and the experience overall.

“Women, we run the world. We are the energy that is chaotic and moving. Men tend to have a ‘do or die’ lifestyle. We’re up and down, we are moving. It’s a feeling I don’t think I could have understood sitting in a room full of men.”

Dominique Christina Ashaheed, last year’s WOWPS winner, who placed second this year, particularly moved her. “I’ve been inspired, empowered, in awe, but she shut me up. I was crying as she spoke. Afterwards I asked her to be my mentor. Hearing her is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had as a poet.” Going over the time limit was the reason Ashaheed lost; by just 0.1 points. This year’s WOWPS winner was Denice Frohman “I think [Ashaheed] should have won.”

Then, Britta B. offered some food for thought. “What women need to do is constantly re-evaluate and see if they’re getting the love they deserve. That’s the biggest women’s issue. With the world we’re in we have to be twice the women as any woman in our lives.”

For Britta B., writing became her release during high school, and altered her outlook, which was darkened by her home life. Her pupils contracted when she mentioned the neglect and domestic violence she experienced when she was younger. “Hey ma!” she calls out in one of her favourite poems about her mother. “You must be the only one who knows how much I love the moon. We’ve seen so much darkness together.” But in an instant, her eyes brightened again. “Writing made me realize the power in my words, and then the power in my actions. I developed more awareness, like what kind of person am I if I walk through a door, but don’t gaze back to see if I could hold it for someone else. It seems like I’m saying, ‘Woo, these are my issues now let’s change the world!’ but poetry really provoked my consciousness.” It wasn’t until her third year at Laurier University that a professor had her perform for the first time, and she continued from there.

Since then, Britta B. has made a career out of her poetry and positivity. She’s performed across Canada, including at When Sisters Speak, a showcase for North America’s best Black female spoken word artists. Apart from poetry, she’s a motivational speaker and youth mentor. Two years ago she finished working with Free the Children, organizing workshops and being a key note speaker for youth. She inspires kids, but they inspire her. “I’ll be in a funk, then I see their faces and I say ‘oh yeah, right’,” looking dumbfounded with her eyes widening and her jaw hanging open, “that’s why I’m here.”

“I can give my time and a workshop to them at a time they really need it. I get to create a part of their journey. I needed a ‘me’ when I was growing up!”

One thing Britta B. wishes she could change about herself is to be more balanced. “Right now I feel really good, but if you asked me three days ago I would have said ‘everything,’” dramatic voice drop and all. “I find I go through a lot of crests and troughs, so I guess I could use a bit more balance.”

Britta B. is an artist in every sense of the word. “If I couldn’t write? I’d be crying. I actually wouldn’t be able to breathe.” She laid her hands protectively over the yellow binding of her book, like a mother protecting her child. Like an artist, protecting her craft.

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